Katie Paxson

The phrase “10x developer” is everywhere – whether you’re trying to become one, mentor one, or hire one, working with a person 10x as productive another team member sounds like a dream. The problem? No one knows what traits truly make a developer 10x.

Bradley Scott, VP Product at Andela, interviewed 3 technology leaders on the topic, and the unanimous conclusion is that a person’s ability to make the team 10 times as productive matters much more than one’s individual performance. However, the factors that increase a team’s productivity by 10 may not be the same ones that come to mind when you think of a 10x developer.

“Can you take 10 devs around you and make them all slightly better at their job?”

Mentorship and the ability to empower junior developers is huge. Emily Nakashima, Director of Engineering at Honeycomb.io, looks for developers who create an encouraging environment for others to ask questions. A fresh set of eyes can reveal problems that more senior developers have gotten used to, leading to a simpler, better solution. Emily also makes sure to involve team members of all experience levels in the interview process.

“A great developer listens to feedback from others.”

Feedback is another key element in a 10x developer, according to Barsana Riyaz, an Engineering Manager at Expedia. She says, “Even the greatest developer will miss things. The more important question is, are they willing to be open to hearing that from others?” A senior developer who believes they are always right is detrimental to the team, no matter how brilliant. Having the emotional intelligence to give and receive constructive feedback is critical.

“Our interview process is hugely focused on communication.”

Now that you know who you’re looking for, the question is how do you find them? At Honeycomb, candidates complete a coding exercise at home, on their own time. During the interview, they talk through it, explaining their choices and tradeoffs. “In the short term, no one is going to turn out perfect code. But if they can say why they made the optimizations they did, that’s a strong indicator,” says Nakashima. This also allows her and the rest of the interview panel the opportunity to give feedback, ask questions, and see how this person interacts with the rest of the team.

“Don’t go with your gut.”

Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of pymetrics, has built an entire company around answering the hiring question. pymetrics evaluates cognitive and emotional traits that are correlated with job success, and uses this evaluation to match candidates to jobs. Polli says, “The term 10x developer assumes there are people who will be 10x developer anywhere. That is the opposite of what we [pymetrics] think, which is that it’s all about fit. Performance depends on how well you fit a specific role at a specific organization.” Given this, she advises engineering managers to think hard about their team values, and screen for these using data and technology.

Riyaz sums it up: “To me, it’s not about writing lines of code or delivering more in a shorter time. It’s not about a single developer performing above and beyond – instead, it’s about that single developer bringing everyone around them up to their level.”

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About the Author

Katie Paxson

Growth @ Andela

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